Those last years, the use of online shops is increasing rapidly overall in the world. According to Forrester Research, which study was published in 8th march 2010, in United States online retail sales could reach $248.7 billion by 2014, growing 60 percent from 2009. Online book and CD selling is representing a major part of the success of e-commerce.
The business sector is dominated by few companies, which became global players in a very short time period. While the prices and the variety of products are predetermined among the sector; the confidence and the professionalism a company inspires to its customers are the main factors remaining to create a competitive advantage. Therefore the public appearances of the websites of those companies are a crucial success factor.
The aim of this report is to outline the experience a potential customer makes, while searching for a product on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books a Million and Pick a Book. The impressions were gained during a EWAM evaluation and are therefore also structured in that way. The results of this analysis have qualitative character and were made by three experienced users, which could be classified as online heavy shoppers.
Amazon’s page is the most impressive one providing high qualitative and functional structure which meets the requirements of each e-commerce phase.
In order to attract customers, Amazon has developed very well site structure with a highly sophisticated search engine. The search results are very well structured and show a lot of qualitative information. Each product page has very helpful integrated recommendation system, showing similar books and recommending whole sets of books. Furthermore, the use of hypermedia offers real additional benefit to the customer. The overload of information in product pages and the bad design of the navigation inside the web are elements which make it difficult to find specific products.
The agreement phase is effectively fulfilled by a simple and clear order form, suitable prices, possible free shipment in specific orders and the possibility to choose between thousands of new and used products.
In settlement phase, customers are able to choose between many different payments systems, with the possibility to set efficiently transactions and very well integrated tracking and tracing services.
Despite the missing online chat, Amazon serves the customers with easy access to the customer support and a call-back system in order to gain long-term customer relationship.
Amazon offers only few interaction possibilities and poor personalization functions. Then again, Amazon provides a big community. It is very simple for customers to rate products and write comments about products, therefore customers benefit from professional, editor, evaluation and unprofessional, customer, evaluation. The permanent availability of the web site as well as the good user interface, make it possible to save time in all transaction phases.
The web site as well as the company inspires great confidence.
3. Barnes & Noble
The interface of the website is very user-friendly; it has a great structure which allows easy page navigation. The customers can find a lot of information about the products which are then being shown in very well designed sites with integrated recommendations and hypermedia. Missing information such as more detailed search results, and combined recommendations would provide additional benefits to customers and inspire those customers to buy more products.
The simple and clear order form, special prices for regular customers and many different choices between products make the agreement phase complete and attractive for customers.
Barnes & Noble uses the tracking and tracing services in an unsatisfactory way, but it has well integrated generic services and provides good integration into the customers’ information systems resulting in a functional and effective settlement phase.
The customer is served after sales as well. B&N offers a helpful quick help section which grants very easy access to the customer support. There is no online chat support.
The success of the page is increasing through the easy access to the community which rates and comments products. In some cases missing customer’s contributions are directly affecting the customer empowerment.
The website is permanently available, has a good user interface which allows the customer to save time, but offers too little interaction and has poor personalization functions.
Barnes & Noble inspires great confidence.
4. Book a Million
In one hand Book a Million has integrated recommendations and hypermedia, but at the other hand has a negative features such as bad page navigation, poor search results, missing recommendations, and poor structure for specific searches. Those bad features make difficult gaining information about products.
The information phase makes no good impression. The agreement phase is very organized with a simple and clear order form, suitable prices and especially low prices for club members.
The settlement phase needs improvements; generic services are not integrated as efficient as in Amazon and B&N. There are no tracking and tracing services, although desirable.
In the after-sales phase it is easy to access the customer support, but there is no product return possibility, so the customer has to contact the company.
The virtual community is easy to be accessed as well, but it consists of only a few members. Few user reviews and missing editor reviews are an aspect which definitely needs to be improved.
Otherwise, the website is permanently available, has a good user interface and the customer can possibly save time hopping in Book a Million. At the other hand the site offers no interaction and personalization functions.
Overall Book a Million inspires little confidence.
5. Pick a Book
Comparing with the other shops, Pick a Book is far away from gaining the customer confidence, starting from the first phase up to the last one.
Although there is enough high-quality information about the books, the bad navigation, the poor search results, the missing recommendation system, the poor use of hypermedia and the badly designed layout is result into an overall poor information phase.
In the agreement phase the order form is clear and simple, the prices are suitable, but there are no special prices for regular customers.
There are no tracking and tracing services, although desirable. The customer has the possibility to choose between payment methods. A good integration into the customer’s information system is a positive aspect in the settlement phase.
The after-sales phase is poor and unstructured. There is a simple contact possibility via mail or phone, but further information could not be found online.
There is neither virtual community, nor a customer feedback possibility. Otherwise the website is permanently available, but allows no interaction and personalization.
Overall Pick a Book inspires no confidence.
Success of e-commerce companies is directly depending from understanding, analyzing, and implementing all parameters of the e-commerce transaction phases. Those phases are overlapping and therefore depend more or less from each other. Missing functions or weak performance of some parameters in one phase can indicate failure at the next. Amazon and Barnes & Noble, overall, have successfully implemented all transaction phases.
Despite the poor implementation or the weak performance of some phases, Book a Million still has a competitive advantage by providing good information, supporting the virtual community and offering low prices. Pick a Book however, gave a bad impression through the questions of EWAN with too many negative aspects, compared to the rest of the sector. In general the four websites do not focus on the personalization aspect. Furthermore, online chat support has not been implemented in any of those websites. It would provide an effective way to interact with customers, which sometimes might be overstrained. Elderly and new customers in particular, which might find it difficult to trust the new technology, might welcome such support.